The city has hit another delay in meeting a mandate established more than a decade ago to make half of the yellow taxi fleet wheelchair-accessible by 2020.

The latest slowdown in the landmark 2013 settlement to a federal class-action lawsuit comes after the city blew a June 30 extension to ensure that 50% of all 13,587 medallion cabs can carry people in wheelchairs or motorized scooters.

“We gave them a two-year extension and they still didn’t do it,” said Jean Ryan, a motorized wheelchair user and head of Disabled in Action, a plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit filed in 2011. “Before, they were blaming it on the pandemic — but now I don’t know what their excuse is.”

Disability-rights advocate Jean Ryan, at an MTA board meeting in lower Manhattan, Sept. 21, 2022. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

According to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, as of June 30, 4,297 taxis — or just 32% of the entire fleet — were equipped to carry people in wheelchairs or motorized scooters, with 697 of the wheelchair-accessible taxis out of service as of Sept. 6.

“While there has been progress, there certainly has not been enough,” said Stuart Seaborn, managing director of litigation for Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit legal center which represents the plaintiffs.

Seaborn said the opposing sides have now entered into a dispute-resolution proceeding, which was required by the settlement, adding that if there is no agreement the case could go back to court.

“Our clients are disappointed the city didn’t meet the target,” he said. 

According to the Mayor’s Management Report released last week, the number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles in the entire TLC-licensed fleet — including Uber, Lyft, black cars and yellow and green taxis — expanded to 8,145 in Fiscal Year 2023, up from 3,515 in Fiscal Year 2019.

Among so-called for-hire vehicles — which provide pre-arranged trips through TLC-licensed bases or ride-hailing apps — there are 4,665 wheelchair-accessible vehicles actively performing trips, according to the mayor’s management report. 

“Accessibility is a top priority for TLC and people who use wheelchairs have the right to the same transportation as everyone else,” Jason Kersten, a TLC spokesperson, told THE CITY. “We will never stop working to bring more [wheelchair-accessible vehicles] and more WAV service into all sectors of the for-hire transportation industry, which is why there is no vehicle license pause for cars that are wheelchair accessible.”

‘It’s Been Over 10 Years’

The road to meeting the mark of a 2013 settlement that was billed at the time as “the first of its kind in the country” has been filled with detours. 

THE CITY reported in September of 2022 that the TLC increased an existing 30-cent surcharge on all yellow and green taxi taxi trips to $1 to help meet the accessibility upgrades deadline, which was pushed back to June 2023 after the 2020 mark was missed.

“The city talks a good game, but in the end, the real question is: Where are the wheelchair accessible vehicles?” said Joseph Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled. “The city has failed to keep its word.”

At the time of the December 2013 settlement, just 231 yellow taxis — not even 2% of what the 13,237 medallion cabs at the time — were wheelchair accessible. An amendment to the settlement included enhanced training for cabbies on how to operate the equipment that allows wheelchairs and scooters to get in and out of taxis.

“People just kept telling us that the hail system was such a remarkable thing and it made taxis a very functional and vibrant way to get around the city,” Seaborn told THE CITY. “Yet at the time, most were inaccessible.”

Seaborn added that he is mindful of the massive growth of the for-hire vehicle industry since the time of the settlement, “but we should not take our foot off the gas” in ensuring that the city sticks to its 50% accessibility commitment on yellow taxis.

“It’s been over 10 years,” he said. “We’re trying to do it as soon as possible.”

Ryan, the motorized wheelchair user, said expanding the number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles is must for those who rely on them.

“Wheelchair users can only go in wheelchair-accessible cabs,” said Ryan, who lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. “We want 100% ultimately.”